Few doctors are prescribing anti-addiction medications after discharging patients who suffered opioid overdoses, and some medical professionals are continuing to prescribe opioids to these patients, according to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Forty percent of those with a heroin overdose and 60 percent of those with a prescription opioid overdose filled a prescription in the six months after overdose for the very kind of medication that contributed to the overdose in the first place,” Julie Donohue, PhD, told HealthDay. Donohue is an associate professor of health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health. She and colleagues conducted the study using claims data from 2008 to 2013 for all Pennsylvania Medicaid patients aged 12 to 64 with a heroin or prescription opioid overdose diagnosis.
The study focused on prescription opioid use, duration and rates of medication-assisted treatment with anti-addiction drugs including buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone six months before and after an overdose.
Researchers found that a third of more than 6,000 patients had survived a heroin overdose, but the rate of opioid prescribing to these patients only dropped slightly. Likewise, of the nearly 4,000 patients who overdose on prescription opioids, prescriptions only decreased by a fraction following recovery. Meanwhile, the number of patients who received medication-assisted treatment increased just slightly following an opioid overdose.
“We need to increase treatment capacity so people treated for overdose in hospitals can begin addiction treatment while in the hospital, reduce stigma associated with treatment, and educate providers on how to motivate patients to engage with treatment,” Donohue said.